When you’re just starting your career, you need all the help you can get managing your time. Even when you’re working hard, you could be wasting a tremendous amount of time either by trying to multitask or by focusing too much on minute details.
Montreal-based designer Étienne Garbugli has struggled with all of that. But as he’s gotten older, he’s learned how to manage his time and workload more effectively. Today, he’s a consultant and entrepreneur, and recently published his first book, Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want.
Last year, he collected some of his favorite lessons in the SlideShare presentation “26 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known At 20.” In December, SlideShare named it the “Most Liked” presentation of 2013.
Below, we’ve explained some of Garbugli‘s best time-management tips everyone should learn in their 20s.
1. There’s always time. Time is priorities
You never “run out of time.” If you didn’t finish something by the time it was due, it’s because you didn’t consider it urgent or enjoyable enough to prioritize ahead of whatever else you were doing.
2. Days always fill up faster than you’d expect
Build in some buffer time. As the founder of Ruby on Rails and Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson said, “Only plan on four to five hours of real work per day.”
3. Work more when you’re in the zone. Relax when you’re not
Some days you’ll be off your game, and other times you’ll be able to maintain your focus for 12 hours straight. Take advantage of those days.
4. Stop multitasking. It kills your focus
There have been academic studies that found the brain expends energy as it readjusts its focus from one item to the next. If you’re spending your day multitasking, you’re exhausting your brain.
5. We’re always more focused and productive with limited time
Work always seems to find a way of filling the space allotted for it, so set shorter time limits for each task.
6. Work is the best way to get working. Start with small tasks to get the ball rolling
The business plan you need to finish may be intimidating at 8 in the morning. Get your mind on the right path with easy tasks, such as answering important work emails.
7. Work iteratively. Expectations to do things perfectly are stifling
Gen. George S. Patton once said, “A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
8. More work hours doesn’t mean more productivity. Use constraints as opportunities
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that sitting at your desk will somehow extract work from you. Do whatever you can to finish your current task by the end of regular work hours instead of working into the night.
9. Separate brainless and strategic tasks to become more productive
Ideally, you can brainstorm your ideas and then execute them. If you’re constantly stopping your flow of work to rethink something, you’re slowing yourself down.
10. Organize important meetings early in the day. Time leading up to an event is often wasted
If you have an important meeting scheduled for 4 p.m., it’s easy for anxiety to set in and keep that meeting at the front of your mind. Try to get them over with early so you can work without worrying about them.
11. Schedule meetings and communication by email or phone back-to-back to create blocks of uninterrupted work
You’ll disrupt your flow if you’re reaching out to people throughout the day.
12. Work around procrastination. Procrastinate between intense sprints of work
Try Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique. “Pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato,” and it refers to the tomato-shaped cooking timer Cirillo used to break his work into 25-minute increments with 5-minute breaks in between. You can use the same idea with your own increments, as long as they inspire bursts of hard work.
13. Break down a massive task into manageable blocks
Alabama football coach Nick Saban follows a similar philosophy he calls the Process. Instead of having his players focus on winning the championship, he trains them to focus only on what is directly in front of them — each block, pass, and field goal.
14. No two tasks ever hold the same importance. Always prioritize. Be really careful with to-do lists
Daily to-do lists are effective ways of scheduling your day. Just do what you can to keep bullet points from making “clean desk” on par with “file taxes.”
15. Always know the one thing you really need to get done during the day
To help prioritize, determine what task in front of you is most important, and focus your energy into getting that done as soon as possible.
16. Delegate, and learn to make use of other people
To be truly efficient, get over the fear of handing work off to someone else. “If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate!” says John C. Maxwell, author of How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life.
17. Turn the page on yesterday. Only ever think about today and tomorrow
Don’t distract yourself with either the successes or failures of the past. Focus instead on what’s in front of you.
18. Set deadlines for everything. Don’t let tasks go on indefinitely
Spending too much time on a project or keeping it on the backburner for too long will lead to stagnation. Get things done and move on.
19. Always take notes
Don’t assume you’ll remember every good idea that comes into your head during the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook, whiteboard, or an app like Evernote — just write stuff down.
20. Write down any unrelated thoughts that pop up when you’re in the zone, so that they don’t linger as distractions
You’ll get them out of the way without losing them.
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